When Do You Think the ABA Reached Parity With the NBA.

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When Do You Think the ABA Reached Parity With the NBA.

Postby giasyc94 » Mon Nov 12, 2007 9:18 pm

All,

I always wondered what others thought when, or if, the ABA reached parity with the NBA in talent. To me the ABA at least achieved parity in their final season 1975-76. Any thoughts?

Roger
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Postby Mike Goodman » Thu Nov 15, 2007 8:29 pm

From my files, the 1977 statistical leaders in the NBA break down like this, regarding players' affiliation in 1976:
Code: Select all
rank  NBA ABA   rank NBA ABA
1-10   6    4    10   6    4
11-20   4    6    20  10   10
21-30   8    2    30  18   12
31-40   7    3    40  25   15
41-50  10    0    50  35   15
51-60   9    1    60  44   16
61-70   7    3    70  51   19
71-80  10    0    80  61   19
81-90   9    1    90  70   20
91-100  9    1   100  79   21

So it looks to me as though 10 of the top 20 NBA players of 1977 had been in the ABA in 1976. (McGinnis was NBA property in '76, as were Scott, Haywood, Chones...)

From 7 ABA'76 teams, then, there were 1.43 top-20 players per team. Among 18 NBA'76 teams, there were just 0.44 per team. This was the result of the ABA grabbing early-entry players for years, with big-bucks offers to future stars.

But of top-90 players -- roughly players 1-4 from each of 22 post-merger teams -- existing NBA teams contributed 4.4 per team, and ABA teams only 2.9 per team.

If nothing else, I hope I've proved how garbled one can make a head count.
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Postby MCT » Tue Nov 27, 2007 6:10 pm

Mike Goodman wrote:...it looks to me as though 10 of the top 20 NBA players of 1977 had been in the ABA in 1976. (McGinnis was NBA property in '76, as were Scott, Haywood, Chones...)

From 7 ABA'76 teams, then, there were 1.43 top-20 players per team. Among 18 NBA'76 teams, there were just 0.44 per team. This was the result of the ABA grabbing early-entry players for years, with big-bucks offers to future stars.

But of top-90 players -- roughly players 1-4 from each of 22 post-merger teams -- existing NBA teams contributed 4.4 per team, and ABA teams only 2.9 per team.

So, if I understand this correctly: the seven ABA teams that made it all the way to the end had significantly more "star" level players, per capita, than contemporary NBA teams did -- so much so that the two leagues were close in terms of the raw number of players at this level, even though the NBA had more than double the number of teams. But when it comes to players at the next level below that, the ABA was way behind the NBA. Even taken on per capita basis (and thus adjusted for league size), ABA teams' rosters were not nearly as deep as the NBA.

This actually makes a lot of sense to me. In past discussions about players who moved from one league to the other, I've observed that players who went from the NBA to the ABA tend to fall into two categories. A small number were stars who jumped because the ABA offered them big money. A larger group were marginal players who had been waived by NBA teams, or were barely hanging on in the senior circuit (note that far more marginal players went NBA-to-ABA than vice versa). But there weren't a lot of average, in-between players who made this move. Maybe it was because, under the option-year system, once a player had signed an NBA contract, it was a pain to get free from it and jump leagues. Or maybe players perceived the NBA as the stronger league financially, and once in, weren't inclined to jump out. Only players for whom it was clearly financially advantageous to jump, or who were struggling to stay in the NBA in the first place, made the move over. Players who fell somewhere in between -- comfortable in the NBA, but not talented enough that the ABA was throwing bags of money at them -- almost never did. This seems to line up nicely with Mike's findings.

Along the same lines:

[The ABA's better showing than the NBA at the "star" level] was the result of the ABA grabbing early-entry players for years, with big-bucks offers to future stars.

So the ABA's top-heaviness may have extended beyond league-jumping veterans, to rookies. Sometimes, as Mike noted, the ABA signed players as undergraduates, before they were even eligible for the NBA draft (so there was no competition from the NBA). Even for players who were eligible for the NBA draft, for most of its existence the ABA held its draft earlier than the NBA's, and would often try to sign up players before the NBA could even get out of the gate and assign their draft rights to a team. A major push to do this in 1970, for example, netted college seniors Dan Issel, Charlie Scott and Rick Mount, among others.

But if you look at players who were actually first-round picks in the NBA draft (in other words, players who reached the point of actually being drafted by the NBA without having already come to terms with the ABA, since players who had were almost never drafted in the first round), the number that went on to sign with the ABA is very low. Looking over the 1967-75 NBA drafts, these are the only first-round picks I found who appear to have signed with the ABA:

1967 -- Mel Daniels (1 of 14)
1968 -- none (0 of 14)
1969 -- Larry Cannon (1 of 15)
1970 -- Jim Ard (1 of 17)
1971 -- John Roche, Collis Jones (2 of 17)
1972 -- none (0 of 11)*
1973 -- Mike Green, Kevin Joyce, Barry Parkhill, Swen Nater (4 of 18)
1974 -- Marvin Barnes, Bobby Jones, Len Elmore, Maurice Lucas (4 of 18)
1975 -- David Thompson, Marvin Webster (2 of 18)
*Note: the first round of the 1972 draft had only 13 picks, due to four teams having used their picks in a special supplemental hardship draft in the fall of 1971. Two of the thirteen teams that did pick selected players who were already under contract to the ABA (Chicago took Ralph Simpson and Milwaukee took Julius Erving); I have not counted them in the tally above since these players were obviously drafted purely for speculative value. I have similary ignored the four players selected in the first round of the 1971 hardship draft since the ABA probably had an even worse shot than usual at signing these players (all four signed with the NBA; if they were going to sign with the ABA, they probably already would have done so before the hardship draft even happened).

That push around 1973-74 notwithstanding, the percentage of the above players who signed with the ABA is very low. At all times, the ABA was at least 50% of the size of the NBA, and in the early years it was even higher. But the ABA only signed about 10% of these players, failing to reach 25% even in its best year.

It seems like the ABA managed to sign a number of specifically targeted potential stars, primarily by trying to get to these players before the NBA could, but that the vast majority of players entering the pro ranks who could be described as "good prospects, but not projected as superstars" ended up in the NBA. Maybe this was due to these players perceiving the NBA as a safer bet; maybe it was due to ABA teams blowing their budgets on the potential stars and not having anything left over to chase these players with. In any event, just as with league-jumpers, it looks like the bulk of pro rookies entering the ABA were likely either players who NBA teams were predicting to be potential stars, or marginal reserves who couldn't make the NBA/thought they'd have an easier time making an ABA roster, with disporportionately little in between.
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Postby keenan_pdx » Tue Nov 27, 2007 7:26 pm

This clearly isn’t a perfect way to compare the leagues, not that anything would be, but another way to measure the rising strength of the ABA is to examine the results of exhibition games played between the ABA and NBA from 1971 until1975 (the last five pre-seasons of the ABA) as chronicled by remembertheaba.com.

http://www.remembertheaba.com/ABAStatis ... tions.html

Now, these games were exhibitions, but they were reportedly incredibly intense (for obvious reasons). The results suggest the ABA wasn’t nearly the NBA’s equal in 1971-72 or 1972-73, but ABA teams did appear to gain significant ground the final three years when they went 15-10 (in 1973), 16-7 (in 1974), and 31-17 (in 1975) against NBA teams.

This is different than comparing the relative strength of players 1-12 on ABA v. NBA rosters, but it does suggest that ABA teams were becoming at least competitively on par with NBA teams during their last few years of leagues history.
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Postby MCT » Tue Nov 27, 2007 8:55 pm

Keith Ellis wrote:In the Long Shots video Red Auerbach sums up the ABA as a few stars crusting over & somewhat hiding a thin soup of below-average talent.


Red's comments greatly exagerrate the situation. There were more than just a "few" stars in the ABA, to the point where the ABA's "crust", at least at the end, was even thicker than the NBA's. The ABA may not have signed very many NBA first-round picks, but in most of those years the ABA had already taken a handful of prospects out of circulation before the NBA draft was even held. As for the soup, I don't think we really have much of a handle on how thin it was compared to the NBA's, but my sense is that it was noticeably thinner, especially before the 1975 contractions.

The really great teams, it may be argued, are deep w/ superstars -- Daniels & Reed, Clyde & Rajah -- as well as a host of good-to-great individuals -- Fritzie, Freeman, & Baby Bull, Barnett, Bradley, & DeBusschere.

I think the ABA soup was not just thinner than the NBA's, but more uneven. The stronger ABA teams, especially in the later years, were probably at or close to NBA-quality, top-to-bottom. Dig into the soup there, and you probably couldn't tell the difference. This is backed up by the 1976-77 records of the teams that merged. The Nuggets and Spurs were good, the Pacers mediocre, which is about what you'd expect based on their final season in the ABA. Only the Nets really stunk, and there were obviously specific reasons for that (the trade of Dr. J, Tiny's injury). And these teams accomplished this despite the fact that they were not allowed to participate in any entry draft in 1976.

The weaker ABA teams were, I think, another story, especially before the 1975 contractions (even at the end, the ABA's numbers in Mike G.'s anlaysis might improve noticeably if we threw out the Squires). Sure, the ABA never had a team that went 9-73 like the '73 Sixers, but I'd hazard a guess that you had a much better chance of getting some watery soup by dipping into the ABA bowl at random than doing the same with the NBA's.

Putting up numbers for Memphis or San Diego was no more comparable to doing so in the NBA than it was to doing so in the ABA for the Pacers or Nuggets. Look at Johnny Neumann, who averaged 18.3 and 19.5 ppg for Memphis in 1971-72 and 1972-73, his first two pro seasons. Neumann never came close to duplicating those figures in the remainder of his career, in either the ABA or the NBA. His most impressive stint after that, statistically, came while he was playing for the Squires. NBA teams thought so little of Neumann that when he was eligible for the NBA draft in 1973, he wasn't taken until the 6th round (that Neumann was under contract to the ABA undoubetdly was a factor in why he went so low, but by that time NBA teams were routinely drafting other ABA players in the first few rounds).

Or look at the Sounds' 1974-75 roster. The players who ranked first, second and third in ppg -- George Carter, Stew Johnson and Rick Mount -- all struggled to stay afloat in the contracted ABA the next season, just a few months later. After the Sails and Stars folded, the only NBA or ABA appearances for any of the three was a 10-game stint with the Spurs for Johnson later in the 1975-76 season. Forget about the NBA, these guys couldn't even catch on with the ABA teams the NBA didn't want. But on the '75 Sounds, they were the top three scoring threats.
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Postby Mike Goodman » Wed Nov 28, 2007 12:42 am

A lot of ABA superstars and lesser luminaries escaped to the NBA. I won't speculate on their motives, but mention it because without this talent flight the ABA might have had talent equivalent to the NBA's in depth, top to bottom.
    In 1969, consensus best-player Connie Hawkins left
    In 1970 totally-best player Spencer Haywood jumped.
    ...
    In '72, Rick Barry went back to the mother league. Also John Brisker, Larry Cannon, Manny Leaks, Jim McDaniels, Charlie Scott, Bob Verga went over.
    In '73, Larry Jones jumped ship.
    In '74, Zelmo and Billy C went back. Also Jim Chones, Jimmy Jones, Bruce Seals, and George Thompson.
    In '75, Don Adams, Donnie Freeman, Steve Jones, George McGinnis, Johnny Roche.
These guys represented the spectrum, from superstar to scrub: 22 major players that didn't fill 2-3 roster spots per ABA team.
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